This week I read Jack Claar's The Ainu Tonkori: A Manual for Learning and Guide to Performance Practice (which, I thought, does what it says on the tin quite well, especially given that the author was in high school when he wrote it). For my money the most interesting presence in the book was Tomita Tomoko 富田友子, who is mostly quoted saying things that undermine the book's entire raison d'être:

According to Ms. Tomita, people think that they can learn the tonkori instrument by listening on their own. But in reality, if the techniques and proper tunings are not correct, the music will become something entirely different and the performer will lose sight of the original purpose of the music. [...] Tomita says that because tonkori music in its tradition was not written down, and it was very largely based on improvisation, that writing the music out restricts it and is in fact detrimental to the open-ended, improvisational and free nature of this form of music.

It's to Claar's credit that he lets Tomita have her say, but it's a bit frustrating that he doesn't engage with it a little more explicitly. Like, does he just plain disagree, and that's why he's publishing the book? Does he agree but think of books like his as a necessary evil, given the low density of tonkori players to learn from? Or is his book a compromise — is the fact that he only gives pieces as very short patterns, with only minimal comments on variation and improvisation, actually a way to avoid freezing the music in amber (as it were)?

Anyway, I found a transcript of a presentation and Q&A session by Tomita about the tonkori (in Japanese) for those who want to hear more from her. Hurried translation of one part:

Because connecting songs was itself enjoyable, when the three of us [from context I assume this means Tomita herself, her main teacher Nishihira Ume 西平ウメ, and her fellow researcher Satō Kyōjirō 佐藤鏡二郎] played together, she [again, I assume this refers to Nishihira] would not stop. Once we started playing, that was it; she didn't even want lunch. We would marvel at how long she could keep going as we did our best to keep up our accompaniment. If I suggested that we take a break, she would say, "If you're tired, let's play lying down," and then she would do just that.


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